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Lead testing in Quebec schools and daycares delayed due to COVID-19

Click to play video: 'What’s in the water in some Quebec Schools?' What’s in the water in some Quebec Schools?
What's in the water in some Quebec Schools? – Aug 11, 2020

A call for the government to make good on their promise to test for lead levels in school drinking water in Quebec has resurfaced.

Testing was side-lined because of COVID-19, but now that students are going back in the fall, the Order of Quebec chemists wants to know when the government will start testing again.

“I understand there are other priorities, but let’s not forget about it,” said Michel Alsayegh, president of the Ordre des chimistes du Québec.

“Let’s just make sure that these analyses get done because we need to know what our kids are drinking. It’s for their safety,” he added.

READ MORE: Quebec children at risk of lead exposure from water in schools and daycares: report

Last fall, an investigation by Concordia university’s institute for investigative journalism, Global News and Le Devoir revealed there was lead contamination in some Quebec drinking water. The government has since promised to test the drinking water in all Quebec schools and daycares, but the deadline has been pushed back because of the pandemic.

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Alsayegh said that’s understandable, but worries the delay is too long.

“Our concern is more for the primary schools and daycare centres. And this is where it gets a little scary because the latest numbers we’ve had for daycares is March, which for us, is far,” he said.

The official opposition also thinks waiting six months to complete all the tests is far from ideal.

“I think we can do actually better. We’re able to do it before December,” said Liberal MNA Marwah Rizqy.

“We all understand that there was a global pandemic — we’re still in a pandemic — but we hope that we can have, in the next few weeks, and in the next few months, more studies conducted all over Quebec.”

READ MORE: Inside the investigation that exposed lead-laced drinking water in Canada

A top researcher in this field said it wasn’t a bad thing to hold off testing, because empty schools with stagnant water would have produced results with inaccurately high levels of lead.

“Water quality in the pipes will not be at all representative of what you would have typically when schools are used,” said Michèle Prévost, a civil engineering professor at the Polytechnique engineering school in Montreal.

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She said letting the water run for a few minutes before drinking it, greatly reduces risk.

She also pointed out that while students will be heading back to the classroom this fall, water fountains will not be in use as part of the measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.

READ MORE: Quebec students Grade 5 and up will have to wear masks in school hallways but not classrooms

“At this point the recommendation from the government is for kids to bring their own water, not to use fountains,” she said.

Global News reached out to the government for comment. They did not respond to our request for an interview.

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